How to communicate to your child that you’re having a baby? For a child, particularly an only child, it’s never a good time to have another baby.
Adult expressions such as “you’ll see, it will be good for him!” is wishful thinking. It’s futile to hope that such big changes which are about to be introduced in his life are beneficial.
Children don’t feel the need to have a sibling, their situation is perfect because all the attention is showered on them, therefore we shouldn’t expect our child to share the same enthusiasm for a new arrival. Only firstborns get exclusivity from their parents and to give up this exclusivity is difficult for them. Second and third born come into this world already used to sharing their parents with others.
How to break the news?
With adequate words according to the child’s age. Stories are the best way to help your child “see” what you are telling them. You can find many books in any children’s book shop, with illustrations aimed at helping the child understand that mummy is having a baby and what that all means. The main character of the book is usually a friendly likable character so that your child can put himself into their shoes and assume the situation.
It’s crucial that your child is informed about the baby at the same time or before other members of the family.
This way you can explain with plenty of time the changes that the mummy’s body will experience. Naturally, according to circumstances, you will know the best time to break the news to your child. It is much better to be straightforward with them so that they don’t fantasize. We may think they don’t understand what’s being discussed by adults in whispers or when we are next door, but they end up finding out just about everything. They may not listen directly to the adult conversation but by observing your reactions and expressions they can gauge that something’s going on. The truth is easier to handle than information that is kept under wraps.
It’s key to explain clearly what to expect from a little brother or sister
Avoid saying that the baby will play with him as your child will imagine that this baby is the same age and he will be very disappointed when he meets the newest member of the family. It’s typical to say that a baby is fun, good company, a play mate….but for the young child who is looking for the immediate satisfaction of his wishes, it will be difficult for him to imagine how this little “thing” which only eats and sleeps can become a play companion.
What is recommended?
When your child meets the newborn it’s important that the baby isn’t in his mother’s arm. It’s best that the baby is in its cot. The image of a baby in Mother’s arms can be taken as a threat by the child “my place has been taken” and this will be the child’s first impression.
Let the older child help care for the baby in any way considered appropriate and suitable for his age and skills.
Parents, both jointly and separately, need to dedicate some “alone quality time” with the older child. No matter how much you tell your older child that you love them, they need proof and this can be achieved by dedicating them your time.
It’s recommended that you tell them: “the baby likes you”, “look how the baby is watching you!”, these sorts of comments help the older child to feel good about the baby and to accept the baby with greater ease. At the same time, it’s important to let the older child know that the baby “doesn’t know how to wait” and therefore needs to be tended to first.
The birth is a good time to talk to the older child about when he/she was born and to explain that when he was this little he too was looked after with great detail and attention. If possible show your child photographs.
Needless to say, all children are different and therefore any treatment and explanations or answers need to be adjusted according to each child. Children need to understand the existence of differences and that to be different doesn’t mean to be any better or worse than…
Try to ignore the attention-seeking behavior.
Congratulate and reward “big brother” behavior and when the child demonstrates a keen interest in the baby or showers it with affection in an effort to overcome his jealousy.
What should be avoided
- Saying that Mummy’s not well. Don’t associate the arrival of a baby with not feeling well as the child may well decide that the newborn is hurting his Mother
- Avoid changing routines, attitudes, or habits in preference for the baby
- Avoid putting the baby into Mummy and Daddy’s bed in front of the older child
- Avoid comparing
- Avoid employing childcare for the older child as he may interpret this as abandonment
Attention seeking behavior can adopt many forms both consciously and unconsciously:
- Disobedience, opposition, and negativity towards the authority of the parents
- Regressive behavior such as bed-wetting, talking in a childish voice, thumb-sucking when the child didn’t do this before…
- Sadness, apathy, lack of play
- Conduct which demonstrates a clear rejection of the new arrival and even aggressive conduct such as wanting or trying to hit the baby.
Parents must be prepared for any changes in the character and conduct of the child. For example, an affectionate child that doesn’t react in any way when he meets the newborn, who doesn’t show acceptance, is, in fact, the child is hiding his true feelings. You need to be very patient and affectionate so that the older child understands that you still love him the same but that his role is now even bigger and better as he is older and he will be able to do more than the new arrival.
You must also be attentive when the child is too indifferent or, at the other extreme wants to participate in the care of his little baby brother all the time. Any extreme is a sign that the situation hasn’t been understood and that it is directly affecting them.
From 1 to 3 years old: at this age, the child is going through a stage which is perfectly normal called “separation anxiety” (the child has “mamitis”). The child cries when Mummy walks out of the room because the child thinks that she is not coming back. The child doesn’t know what will happen when the routine or the person that is caring for him changes and if in the middle of this situation a baby arrives, the child/toddler will experience confusion.
The best thing is for parents to talk to their child about who will take care of them and where when you have to dash off to the hospital as well as any changes thereafter.
You can also use images to show how the mother’s return will be with a little crying baby.
It’s the parent’s task to identify these emotions. Parents should calmly and patiently adopt a tolerant and assertive attitude so that bit by bit the child’s regressive behavior disappears – avoiding punishment, mocking and comparisons with the baby. Rather than simply observing, it will be necessary to deal with child’s feelings of sadness and confusion.
Your love and affection will prove to them how important they are for you. We’re certain that you will find a positive way to handle the situation.
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